Sunday, February 27, 2011

Sci-Fried Theater: WAR OF THE ROBOTS (1978)

Watching Alfonso Brescia movies is like being one of those women you always see on COPS. Sure her old man beats her like a rug, can’t hold down a job and spends all of his time hammered out of his tiny Neanderthal mind, but as the cops are hauling his shirtless, unbathed mass off in handcuffs, she’s there screaming and crying about how it’s not his fault, he’s a good man and you don’t know him like I do. Uh huh. Yep, Alfonso keeps me coming back for more punishment time and time again. I keep trying to quit him, oh I promise I do, but then I find myself paying good money for a second copy of WAR OF THE ROBOTS, a film that is without a doubt one of the worst in his toothgrinding repertoire. Hmmmm... check that. Second worst. Have you seen TURN... I KILL YOU (1967)? That one left a mark.

I keep telling myself that, like a most Italian filmmakers of the ‘70s and ‘80s, he was so prolific that the law of averages dictates that there’s going to be some hairy moments making it through his career and that even Fulci and Argento (oh, particularly Argento) have their resumes pockmarked with dire swill. If I keep trying I’ll hit on his unsung masterpieces! That's the plan, anyway. The sad part is that I think I hit that one masterpiece, ATOR THE IRON WARRIOR (1987), about a dozen films ago and I didn’t even realize it at the time.

WAR OF THE ROBOTS is Brescia’s second “modern” sci-fi effort and it’s easy to see how he actually grew as a filmmaker going forward. No, listen, STAR ODYSSEY(1979) is actually his pinnacle as a science fiction filmmaker. Someone actually had enough confidence in him to give him a budget large enough to actually build robots that look like, well sorta like, robots for that movie!

The film feels as if it was shot without a script for anything but a few key scenes and was improvised on the go, taking unexpected turns at every moment with previously unseen crises leaping out of nowhere as if Brescia kept discovering that he needed another plot device to get the movie to its feature length running time. The basic plot line is kicked into gear when a space outpost is attacked by a couple of guys in gold lame jumpsuits and Prince Valiant wigs (who as we will find out an hour into the movie, are in fact, robots). Apparently Brescia was so impressed with the effectiveness of this look that he used them for every damn sci-fi flick he did. They are like Luigi Cozzi's contamination suit guys. Except nowhere near as cool or, unfortunately, as violently combustible.

Looks like someone just saw the movie
After Captain Boyd (Antonio Sabato ) cryptically remarks that his girlfriend Lois (Malisa Longo) is spending a lot of time with the scientist and that she “could be in love with him… that crazy mind!” the glitter rock rejects kidnap Boyd’s woman (and the sci-guy) for seemingly no reason whatsoever. The captain hops in his space-car, fire up its gas powered V8 engine and tears off across whatever planet they are on to get into his fully manned spaceship and pursue the kidnappers. Of course that sounds more exciting than it really is because there is no real action here and we never even see the Captains hot-rod because they couldn’t afford anything more than a plexiglass dome that is supposed to be the top of the car! Man, I'm not one of them elitist jackasses that pisses on the impoverished filmmaker, but Al, buddy, work within you means fer chrissakes. Have the guy run through a "sci-fi" hallway or just cut to the freakin' ship!

"Doh! You sunk my battleship!"
Once in space the crew, pimped out in primary colored jumpsuits and what look like WWII flight helmets made of felt, chat amiably about romance and other insufferable topics. To break up the monotony, Brescia attpemts to rip-off the famous space walking scene from 2001 (1968), twice, except he has no money, so it’s just a guy suspended on a wire pretending to swim through space while the soundtrack features annoying electronica. To muster a little more “cool” into the first scene, Brescia has a close-up of the Captain upside-down pulling a circuit chip from a motherboard that is presumably on the side of the ship. Ohhhhh, computers! Sci-fi! Wait, the delicate computer circuitry are on the hull of the ship? Nobody thought this might be a design flaw? If you managed to stay awake for the interminable running time of that gag, you get treated to some “aliens” who must be blasted out of the sky (why? Because they are aliens! Duh!) using the same damn space ship shots Brescia uses in every one of his damn sci-fi flicks. Since the ship was damaged in the completely pointless battle, they are forced to land on, as the ships computer states, “a planet of no scientific interest”. Greeeeeeeat, this should be fun.

After forming an away… err, an “expeditionary force”, the crew discovers there are a race of oppressed blind people who live in fear of the golden guys from Anthor who come to their planet to steal their body parts to use to make their robots. "Damn, this is going to get badass", I hear you thinking. No. No, it’s not. In a moment of brilliance Boyd recruits their leader (who for some reason isn’t afflicted by the bug-eyed blindness of his people) to help them find the planet Anthor. How a dude who lives in caves and leads a race of blind men is going to find a freakin’ alien planet is beyond me, but whatever, he does. Once there and have walked around for an interminable amount of time, they are  captured by the Empress of Anthor who happens to be… the Captain’s squeeze Lois who is working in cahoots with the (evil) scientist and running an empire of uhhhh, what would have been cyborgs if they had invented the word yet. Of course, she makes a deal with the scientist that she will give herself to him, if he lets them go, because she’s still in love with the captain… awwwww… kill me now.

From here out it is one climactic battle after another, which may sound great, but oh man, it’s some rough stuff. The best scene in the entire film is one in which the Captain and crew battle a mess of “robots” by basically standing still and firing their laser weapons at a door way in which the gold dudes run out of before promptly falling over dead. No laser beams, no smoking holes in chests, none of that stuff. You don’t need it. Not even sound effects in a few shots. Just a few flash pots on the floor nowhere near the area that the shot was fired. Brescia actually found this footage to be so riveting that he would go on to re-use it over and over for subsequent interstellar cinematic atrocities.

To add a bit more flavor to the long sequence, the Gary Glitters are suddenly armed with glowing swords that are clearly intended to be light sabers, but again, Brecia can’t afford any complex special effects so he merely uses a camera cut when they turn on and are simply steel blades painted with reflective paint. Still, this is easily the most exciting moment of the movie, with mannequins gussied up with robot guts being dismembered with abandon. This trumps even the final dogfight which is done with borrowed stock footage and insert shots of the pilots heads in plastic bubbles that are supposed to be cockpits of their fighters! There’s so many things in the film that simply pop up out of nowhere that make no sense. When the crew are escaping they get a frantic call from earth that they need the codes (which are stored on a computer chip card thing) to shut down a reactor that is about to meltdown and destroy earth and the scientist is the only one who has them! Whaaaaa?? The funniest thing about this brief subplot and its totally ridiculous, but far too complicated to explain, conclusion is that it served as the basis for a retitle on a video release!

Yanti Somer with a skin-tight outfit and
bearing cocktails? Someone check his pulse.
All of this may sound great on paper, but trust me your loins will need to be well girded to sally forth into this. This is a long walk down somnia street and by the time you hit the final credits, you will be ready to hit the bottle. Speaking of long walks, that is one thing Brescia loves to feature. I can see him thinking “it’s action – they are moving their legs in a purposeful manner, AND it pads out my film! Awesome!” Yeah, I think that’s exactly how he said it. Add to that some of the most incredibly dull and uninteresting dialog of all time… no, you heard me. ALL TIME. Long scenes in which the smokin’ Yanti Somer is completely wasted as the girl who pines for the heart of the captain and is ridiculed by her shipmates including one guy who just. will. not. give. up. And really, that cool throwback score that's kinda like a poor man's Oliver Onions that you were kinda diggin' on in the opening credits? Yeah, you'll be ready to find a rifle and a clock tower if you hear another lick of it long before the movie is over. Honestly, you have got to be hard core to sit through this snoozer without being bludgeoned into submission.

Come to think of it, I’ve sat through it twice. Damn, I’m a fucking badass!

2 Reactions:

  1. One of my favorite discoveries of the last years was this eye-gougingly terrible trilogy. I'm convinced that the whole thing was engineered to cause alcohol poisoning. Well anyway that's what happened to me. Because Beast in Space has an almost identical feel to it, I'm wondering if there were porno versions of War of the Robots and brethren. You must see Amazons vs. Superment though, that is something else entirely.

  2. Oh man, you know I've always meant to pick up a copy of AvsS, but never have... until today. I hope you understand that I will be forwarding the hospital bill to you. This much Alfonso Brescia in such a short amount of time can't be good.


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